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Lesley Wolf, Literary Treasure Hunter

Lesley Wolf assists library patrons.
(Photo by Calla Cofield.
Click for larger image.)

Bustling about the reference desk in the library, Lesley Wolf's bright eyes shine from behind colorful glasses as she asks, "What can I help you find?" And the treasure hunt begins.

As a research specialist in the SLAC library, Wolf tracks down literary materials for users. She possesses the skill to seek out and obtain rare, out of print, obscure and specific pieces of literature, in print or online. While many requests simply require a trip down to one of the Stanford libraries, or a search through online databases, there are some that demand more in-depth investigation.

Recently, Wolf received a request for an article that appeared in the quarterly journal of the American Glass Blower's Society. The society offers the journal only to its members, with no outside subscriptions. Upon calling the society offices, Wolf found that even the organization didn't keep copies of old editions. She began to wonder whether the rare gem couldn't be found outside a society member's personal bookshelf. But more sniffing around finally led her to a library in Pennsylvania, which kept an archive of the journal.

"You search and search and then you find this thing you were looking for. It is like a treasure hunt," says Wolf. "Or archaeology." Wolf isn't trained as an archeologist, treasure hunter or even a librarian. She got her master's degree in Comparative Literature, with a focus on medieval French and German literature, from the University of California, Berkeley. "I was studying a field in which, often, little is known about the writers and the audience. It's also difficult to translate from Old French and Middle High German such that you capture the intention of the author." says Wolf. "I gained the ability to work from very little information. It takes a lot of imagination. I figured out how to piece together scraps and bits and reconstruct a story."

Sometimes even Wolf's skills aren't enough to find rare materials. That's when she teams up with Head Librarian Ann Redfield, who has more than thirty years of experience as well as a master's degree in library science. A recent request took their search overseas to the British Library, which mailed them a 356-page photocopy of a book that did not exist in the U.S.

Along with the treasure hunts, Wolf says she enjoys her job because of the face-to-face interaction she has with library clients. She encourages SLAC patrons seeking a book, article or other piece of information to call, e-mail or drop by the library. "It's really great to have a library right at a research institution. You can request an item and get on with your work while we find it for you," Wolf says.

"We get a lot of people coming in saying 'I have an idea about how this is going to work…' and they want some information on it," Wolf says. "With [the Linac Coherent Light Source] starting up, books that haven't been touched in a while are suddenly in high demand, as well as new books. Researchers can custom tailor the library collection to their needs."

If you're looking for a book, article or information; wanting to read the daily newspaper or latest journal; or would like a quiet place to read, study or use the internet, drop by the library in the lobby of Building 50. You can also send an e-mail or dial extension 2411 and talk to your very own treasure hunter.

—Calla Cofield
SLAC Today, September 24, 20088